What it’s about :
Still grieving her father following his suicide, Marina hopes teaching English in Japan will be the change of scenery she and her girlfriend Carolyn need. However, the culture shock is bigger than she expected, and Marina soon finds out that you can’t really escape your past, no matter how hard you wish you could.
My Thoughts :
My impression of If You Follow Me was that it had a very quiet pace, yet contained so much on an emotional level. Some parts had me smiling and almost laughing, while other parts made my heart break. Marina’s journey through grief and integration to a new culture had no boring moment, while being written very realistically. The characters had depth and the culture was explained with great respect (by which I mean, a culture carefully described to foreigners without relying on common stereotypes).
An interesting aspect of the book was Marina’s relationship with Carolyn. While their relationship is part of the story, it isn’t the only focus (or even the main one) of the book. Even more interestingly, I appreciated the author’s effort not to label the two girls. They both had some interest for men, too, Carolyn having dated many (but not exclusively girls) before, and Marina having been only with guys. To have their sexuality not clearly defined, and not being the only defining characteristic of their lives, was extremely refreshing.
I loved discovering Japan through Marina’s eyes. It feels like Asia will never cease to surprise me; no matter how many books, mangas, magazines or stories I read, there is always more to discover about it. If You Follow Me was no exception. Marina discovered great differences through important things like her work or smaller things like the garbage, and I was fascinated by it all. I felt like I was there, trapped in this strange country, learning the rules of life all over again.
I really loved If You Follow Me, and after I finished reading it, I found myself thinking about it quite often. Watrous created strong images with her quiet narration, and because of her talent, I felt like I both met interesting characters and visited another land for the time I read.
Sometimes I don’t feel like talking to a
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From Goodreads : First published in 1982, this is the story of two teenage girls whose friendship blossoms into love and who, despite pressures from family and school that threaten their relationship, promise to be true to each other and their feelings.
My Thoughts : Prior to reading it, I had often seen Annie on my Mind recommended as a must-read of young adult GLBT fiction. One of the first of its kind, this book has been featured not only on readers’ shelves but also recommended or banned by schools and various associations. I know I first saw it in high school, among other GLBT books, in the context of a school event promoting acceptance and tolerance.
So this book came with some sort of a “build up” for me. I wouldn’t say my expectations were high, but my curiosity for it definitely was. I also wondered : could this book still deliver a strong message even though its first publication occurred before I even stepped into this world?
The short answer ; yes. But, only to a certain extent. What struck me was how, if this story was written today, it would probably end up very differently for one reason : social media. Maybe the conclusion would be similar, but I believe the plot would certainly take different turns. It still was nicely written, with a good story, and I am sure many teen would recognize themselves in the characters, but it was an interesting point for me to think about.
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From Goodreads : Penny is sick of boys and sick of dating. So she vows: no more. It’s a personal choice. . .and, of course, soon everyone wants to know about it. And a few other girls are inspired. A movement is born: The Lonely Hearts Club (named after the band from Sgt. Pepper). Penny is suddenly known for her nondating ways . . . which is too bad, because there’s this certain boy she can’t help but like. . . .
My Thoughts : I felt the idea was cute, and fun, and could be something original. I imagined that, instead of a straight-forward romance, it would start as a non-romance with a promise of something more. Mostly, this is exactly what I got, and unfortunately not much more.
It was a cute story, yes, and Eulberg’s writing makes it a quick and pleasant read. But the book lacked some punch, some obstacles for the characters to fight with, some unexpected turn for them to show off their true colors. I found that the whole thing was a bit plain, and I kept confusing the club’s members. Nice ending, though. So, while it wasn’t bad or very memorable, it still was a cute read I could recommend for when you need something light for your heart.
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From Goodreads : While working full-time at Berkeley’s ultra-cool Bob and Bob Records, 16-year-old Allie develops her secret identity as The Vinyl Princess, author of both a brand-new zine and blog. From the safety of her favorite place on earth, Allie is poised to have it all: love, music and blogging.
My Thoughts : I think the best word to describe my feel of this novel would be : unexpected.
I thought it would be one of those traditional YA romance with a touch of music; instead, I found a YA novel that was much more complex than expected. Allie’s passion is music, and it lives through every page of the story. Even though I don’t share her passion, I found myself extremely curious about the bands and records she mentioned (though I don’t think she would approve of most of my musical selection!)
I loved that this book had a mix of everything : family, friendships, romance, a cat and a touch of mystery. Allie felt realistic to me because I got a glimpse of every aspect of her life. She wasn’t only focused on her hopes and dreams or her romance, and I always enjoy that. I know I’ll want to read more by Prinz!
February Flowers by Fan Wu
Pages : 300
Genre : Fiction, China, GLBT
My Rating :
What it’s about :
It is the fall of 1991, in China, when seventeen years old Ming starts university. There she meets Yan, an older girl with a personality completely opposite to hers. As quiet and innocent and idealistic as Ming is, Yan is outspoken and loud, and doesn’t care much about conventions. Yet despite their differences, the girls form a surprising friendship, forever changing Ming’s life.
My Thoughts :
February Flowers was everything I love about Chinese contemporary fiction – or at least, what I have personally experienced of it. It had a quiet pace, a beautiful narration and complex characters. Though the book is about Ming and Yan’s friendship, this is mainly the story of Ming and how that relationship changed her.
I guess it could be argued whether February Flowers is, or isn’t, about homosexuality. In fact, I have read reviews arguing both sides of this. The girls never truly engage in a sexual relationship, nor do they ever clearly say that they are homosexual or bisexual. They certainly flirt with the possibility, and Ming is clearly confused; she has a hard time determining whether her feelings for Yan are more than friendship, and if these feelings are precisely linked to Yan or to women in general. There is no clear answer given, either, and I liked that : no answer means no label, and I felt it was realistic that Ming wouldn’t be one thing or the other. It might be that she is somewhere in between, or that what she lived was specific to the situation with Yan and never to be reproduced. So while it might not be a GLBT novel in itself, the theme, from my point of view, is at least present.
I do think the book is a coming-of-age story : it’s about Ming finding who she is in this modern China, having the views she grew up with clashing with the world Yan is offering her. This story of discovery is a slowly paced one, and nothing much happens in term of events, but I loved getting to know Ming and see her relationship with Yan develop.
Yan isn’t a really likable character : fascinating and colorful, yes, but also manipulative and self-centered. But she also lived through some difficult things, so one might explain the other. I think her interest in quiet, studious, caring Ming, comes from a place of envy, or maybe curiosity, to know what her life could have been if she had made different choices or lived through different things.
I definitely enjoyed this study of characters, and a book set in modern China was a refreshing change of setting. The fact that Fan Wu did grow up in China and studied there, like Ming, only added to how realistic the setting felt.
Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!
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From Goodreads :
Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive “Wolf-Man” who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup’s father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated by the US government, engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sensory capability, stamina, and a total lack of fear.
Loup, named for and sharing her father’s wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider. After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: they form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town.
My Thoughts :
I read Santa Olivia in 2009 and loved it so much, I couldn’t write a review for it. I wanted to do the book justice, and in the end, I never found the right words. Go me!
This book was a great experience for me on two levels : first for the book itself, and secondly because it was one of the few books that both the Man of the House and I read, which means we got to talk about it. He is a huge fan of Carey’s fantasy series, but this book was my first time reading her, and I just fell in love with her writing. There is something different about it, something I couldn’t pinpoint but, combined with great story and characters, made the book a compulsory read for me.
While not the most original out there, the idea, a kind of “superhero-meets-government-conspiracies” story, was really intriguing. But what hook me into the story, really, was the character of Loup. I’ve met few characters that had that quality of both puzzling me and being easy to figure out. And I know it does sound contradictory, but it’s still true. The fact that, physically, she wasn’t completely “normal” made her motivations and her reactions clear enough; the fact that she wasn’t “normal” also placed her in a different spot than the rest of the characters, or than the readers, meaning that her reactions were often different than what you would expect from a “normal” person.
The romance between Loup and Pilar also plays an important part in the story, and I loved how contemporary it felt. For me, that relationship was one of the really strong points of the book : everything Loup felt, I felt through the words. Also, I loved having a non heterosexual main character in a book, without the book being all about dealing with sexual identities. It is part of the story, a really important one, but it’s really not the only focus, and while books dealing with GLBT issues are a necessity, I believe it is also necessary to show that a GLBT character can have a story outside of his/her sexual identity – that sexual identity, while important, isn’t the only thing defining an individual.
I did think the book had some faults. I felt like some aspects of the setting weren’t fully explored or explained, that many questions were left unanswered. At the time, there wasn’t a second book planned, so that really puzzled me. I still loved it though, because sometimes when it comes to books, I’m just irrational like that : I see the flaws and I choose to ignore them. I’m not the only one, right?
Although Santa Olivia is NOT a teen/YA novel, it would be really on trend with many YA books currently on the market : it has a dystopian world where a disease made most people sick, it’s a bit futuristic without being full-on sci-fi, there’s a government gone bad, action, a strong female lead, etc. But since there are many YA readers who are, like me, of grown up age, I think it might be something that would interest some of you too! 🙂
I’m placing this one on my shelf and planning on re-reading it soon, hopefully, as book two is on its way for October. Yay!
Series Reading Order :
- Santa Olivia
- Saints Astray (coming October 2011)
Wildthorn by Jane Eagland
Pages : 355
Genre : YA, Historical Fiction, GLBT
My Rating :
What it’s about, in my Words :
As a child in Victorian England, Louisa has always had a mind of her own. Passionate about science, she dreamed of following her father’s footsteps and becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, not everyone around her think science is a place for women…
At first, Louisa thinks it is all a mistake : she was supposed to make her way to the Woodvilles’ home, but instead she ended up in Wildthorn, an asylum. There people call her by an other name and insist on her fragile state of mind. Soon though, Louisa realizes her forced stay at the asylum might not be a mistake : maybe someone wanted to get rid of her. Trying to escape, Louisa must look through her past to assemble the puzzle that will tell her who, and what, got her there.
I loved that book! Even though I was really lucky to get a free copy via netgalley, I still added it to my wishlist as I would love to add a copy on my real shelves!
From the start, there were so many aspects of this novel that were right up my alley : the Victorian period, the England setting, a strong female character with a mind of her own, the mysterious and horrific asylum… I’ve had a bunch of “good” reading lately, but nothing “great”, and Wildthorn turned out to be exactly what I needed! I was captivated from the first page and I could barely let it go before the end.
I found the pace of Wildthorn to be smooth and quiet, something that really balanced the darkest moments of Louisa’s story. Eagland breaks the monotony of the asylum life by alternating between past and present for the first part of the novel, which gave us some insight on Louisa and the people she cared about. From then, we can make a few hypothesis about why she was put there and by who, although there is more to the story than this single mystery.
I loved Louisa as a whole because she wasn’t one-dimensional : she was more than just a teen, just a lesbian, just a wanna-be-doctor. She was all those things wrapped in intelligence and heart. I felt she was true to her times, too, and it was one of those rare young adult books where I didn’t feel like I was reading a teen novel : instead, I felt like I was reading a historical fiction with a young adult protagonist. Even more, I have to applaud the author for taking us into Louisa’s mind and making us doubt what’s real and what isn’t.
I also loved the portrayals of the characters in Louisa’s life. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I was surprised by some of their actions and decisions, giving their stories a realistic conclusion where not everything goes perfectly.
Wildthorn was everything I could ask for in a YA historical novel. Sure, it wasn’t perfect : the pace was a bit uneven at times and the story slightly predictable, but in the end I loved the book as a whole and the characters enough that I didn’t care about those details.
For more information Wildthorn and its author, visit the website, where you can learn how Eagland got her inspiration from a real – and terrifying – story.
I mentioned in my August recap that my August reading had been kind of “meh”; this is mostly due (but not entirely, of course), to 3 of the 4 books I borrowed from the library. Let’s just say I’m glad I borrowed, not bought these books! So to spare the pain of writing many not-so-positive reviews, I decided to rip the band-aid off at once.
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TMI by Sarah Quigley
Pages : 302
Genre : YA, Fiction
My Rating :
What it’s about : Becca has a tendency to overshare, a fact she always knew but never cared to change. When her over-sharing drives her boyfriend away, Becca decides she needs to stop saying everything that crosses her mind; instead, she starts an anonymous blog where she can say as much as she wants without getting in trouble.
My thoughts : TMI was a cute story and there’s not much more I can say about it. I enjoyed it enough, but I felt it wasn’t really memorable. I expected Becca’s blog to be about gossips and episodes of her life, but instead it was more about putting her daydreaming in words. Her blog was the least interesting part of the book for me, but the author did managed to make Becca entertaining and likable enough. Also, I felt the book really was directed to a younger crowd than the YA fiction I usually enjoy, so I can’t really blame the book or the author for my lack of excitement.
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Pages : 218
Genre : Non fiction, Memoir,
My Rating :
What it’s about : Howie Mandel, comic and host of Deal or no Deal, shares about his struggles with ADD and OCD.
My thoughts : Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know about Mandel’s brand of humor or about his career, really. He was just this guy I saw once in a while in a publicity for his show. I went into this book only interested in learning about how he dealt with his OCD (he’s a germaphobe) and how this affected his life. Sadly, this book was mostly a huge apology to friends and family for the troubles his disorders caused. He shares what happened, but we don’t really get to know what were the consequences, what he did to fix it, etc. Also, I didn’t get his sense of humor, so most of his jokes fell flat for me.
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Gravity by Leanne Lieberman
Pages : 239
Genre : YA, GLBT, Fiction
My Rating :
What it’s about : Elli is an orthodox Jew, but she also has a thing for girls. It’s the summer, it’s the eighties, and Elli is spending a month at her grand-mother’s house by the lake. There she falls for a girl like no other, and her life will never be the same.
My thoughts : I don’t even know where to start with this one. First of all, Elli had the most boring summer I have ever read in a YA novel, so boring that I almost stopped reading many times (so boring, she loses track of time herself). Fortunately, the pace gets better when her month at the lake is over, but the books doesn’t improve much. I guess the author had a great idea, but very poorly executed. Her views on being a lesbian or an orthodox Jew seemed stereotyped to me, and borderline offensive when it came to explaining how it was to be a Jew. Now, I’m not going to write a defense for being a Jew or not and all that, but her view felt limited and therefore, not respectful. Plus, there were so many inconsistencies (her parents are strict, but still let her spend a month with her grand-mother, who’s everything but orthodox?) that it drove me crazy. Also, the numerous references to “breasts” and how they were “squeezed” in a too tight shirt felt a bit ridiculous. Of course, if you’re into girls you’ll be into their physical attributes, but I do wish there’s more to it than that. Sigh.